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For Boys With Autism, Video Gaming Can Be Problematic


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Boys with autism are spending significantly more time playing video games than their typically developing peers and are at higher risk for gaming to be problematic or addictive, researchers say.

On a daily basis, boys with autism are spending more than two hours playing video games. That’s nearly twice the playing time clocked by their typically developing peers, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed the parents of boys ages 8 to 18 — 56 with autism, 44 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and 41 with no diagnosis — about their children’s gaming habits.

Problematic or addictive video game use was much more prevalent among those with autism and ADHD, the study found. In boys with autism, this propensity toward problematic play was associated with a preference toward role-playing games.

“These results suggest that children with ASD and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play, including excessive and problematic video game use,” wrote study authors Micah Mazurek and Christopher Engelhardt, both of the University of Missouri, in their findings. “Attention problems, in particular, are associated with problematic video game play for children with ASD and ADHD, and role-playing games appear to be related to problematic game use particularly among children with ASD.”

Further study is needed to assess the long-term impact of screen-based media like video games on those with autism, the researchers said. In the meantime, they indicated that clinicians need to be more aware of the potential for problematic game use among those with autism and ADHD.

Previous research — also conducted by Mazurek — found that boys with autism who played role-playing video games displayed more oppositional behaviors like arguing. But it was unclear whether the games were sparking the problems or if children with behavior troubles were drawn to the genre.

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Comments (14 Responses)

  1. GrammaKnows says:

    Of course no one wants to bother discovering that kids on the spectrum from ASD to ADHD do not have the NORMAL frequency and depth of interpersonal relationships to work through the dynamics and understanding of creating and breaking alliances, winning and losing, fighting, and making up after disagreements. This “study” serves to further highlight the desire to point to spectrum children as “failing” compared to NT peers and highlighting differences in social interaction without EVER making the observation of how their entire lives are deprived from access to other ways to learn NORMAL interaction.

    Where are the studies that show how segregation, lack of sensitivity and diversity training of NT peers and adults in contact with spectrum children in school, social groups and general society that CREATE the scenario for exaggerated social interaction following the limited schooling of social interactions found in video games?

    Perhaps the primary reason the researchers found “it was unclear whether the games were sparking the problems or if children with behavior troubles were drawn to the genre” is they are looking at something that does not exist in their limited scope of definition, but that lies outside that definition and is found in the entire social context of special needs.

  2. Whitney says:

    It kind of hard for ASD to have social interaction when nobody wants to socialize with them . Opppositional behavior please the studies includes teenagers really unless they are not just listening to their parents and breaking the law then it has merits. Unless the study can point to alternatives for children to do stuff it is pointless. I think this jumping the gun without fully understanding the impact of the gaming industry on children as a whole. Autism does not mean mindless drones or unemotional people but have our interest as well. If child does not share interest of the parent there nothing wrong in that. RPGs are types of game not a genre. It not like we are finding people who want to play with an Autistic.

    I don’t roleplaying games are not good or bad it depends on the game itself the more realistic the game is setting hard distinquish what is real or not. I think that is NT problem as well. RPG genre is can be a real as Black Ops where playing military guy set in the present or near future or pure Sci-fi or fantasy the distinction is clear. Also the games like Grand Theft Auto is being played or not? Now that RPG I would have more research on for Oppositional behavior in all segments who play that.

  3. Annee says:

    I believe that relying on people to “self-report” and then basing a study on it is truly ridiculous. My personal guess is that the parents of the “normal” kids were in denial about the amount of time their kids spent “gaming”. That word “problematic” bothers me. If they meant “addictive”, then why not call it that. Of course video gaming is addictive. That’s why good parents will take charge and see that their kids get the stimulation they crave in other ways. Kids with disabilities may get more screen time because their parents are overwhelmed, but this is not a disability vs normal problem.

    I especially noted that the only specific “problem” mentioned was that the disabled child became more “argumentative”. Is that code for : I’m used to a docile, non-responsive child, and this bothers me.?

    Computers and video games can be an ASSET for a child, disabled or not, or a NEGATIVE. Parental involvement makes all the difference, from the choice of programs, to the amount of screen time allowed.

    I personally have seen a “socially disabled” child who became very adept at gaming , become a person of interest to others who sought him out for help in their own gaming. It can be a tool to open doors.

  4. ASD Mom says:

    As a mom of three sons (one with ASD, one with mild ADD and one undiagnosed) and a professional working with individuals with developmental disabilities it appears to me that boys interest in video games is directly related to control. My son without a diagnosis played less video games than the one with mild ADD and they both played less then the one with ASD. It reflects a need to have some control. Role play games especially provide a sense of control. All young people feel, for good reason, they have no control in their lives. Children with disabilities have less control living in an uncomfortable or distorted environment on top of all the other childhood issues. My sons currently range in age from 18-21. They no longer play video games as much and have moved on to other things. It would be interesting to determine if the role playing games do draw those with more aggresssive tendecies or if they contribute to the aggression. My observation would indicate the games are more appealing to those with aggression issues. My two sons who are not on the autism spectrum did not engage in the aggressive behaviors that plagued my eldest son for several years. Besides having autism being the eldest contributes to more aggressive behavior. The first son typically will have more issues of aggression with his father and the younger sons will not have the same experience. I don’t believe that video games lead to violence any more than any other form of entertainment. Aggression is a result of environment, birth order and most of all hard wiring. Research has shown higher levels of testosterone in individuals on the autism spectrum.

  5. Matthew Dever says:

    Basically kids with ASD were around a lot earlier than video games. We had issues with attention before video games. It’s perhaps that we feel more comfortable in worlds and games where we understand the rules, and they don’t change.

  6. Rhein says:

    I agree with the study up to a point, those with ASD are often isolated and relate more to technology based activities than others. But keep in mind, many on the spectrum focus intensely on subjects, almost to a fault. I don’t see this activity any different than any other passionate interest they often become “experts” in. This is part of the wonderful nature of ASD.

  7. Andrew noble says:

    I wonder if the role-playing games might add a social dimension which could have a countervailing benefit. Many of these games such as World of Warcraft require social interactions in order to achieve success.

  8. Kathleen Crane-Grylls says:

    My son 12 y.o ASD nonverbal loved his games…was very adept but problems arose quickly…comb
    ative…didnt want to stop for anything including toileting and monster neltdowns if separated feom game…also angered when game didnt go his way…after two smashed consoles i eefused to buy more…not rich by anyones standards…im convinced gaming is NOT good for MY ASD kiddo.

  9. Whitney says:

    Andrew- It really depends on the game. The basic setting present a controlled situation where an outcome is preset therefore makes it easier to relate to people with similar conditions. It teaches if X is a social stimili and y would be most likely the response. So the game socializing gives us safe zone where that what is said and likely outcome both positive and negative in human social reactions. That is why Sims are so useful it gives reason how the social outcomes in predetermine fashion. However certain RPG do the same thing but it is more dependent on the game.

  10. kathy says:

    I would go further to say media in general is a problem. My child becomes very obsessive after a media fix. We have decided to limit him to 1 hour a day media period, no video games either. He has “man time” daily with dad and they watch a non violent show. That’s it.

  11. Kellie says:

    I agree with everyone here who posted. Honestly, these studies are useless. My son’s two sons who are on the spectrum are very social and still play video games. I feel the games teach them coordination, strategy, build their vocabulary (if they have to read) and if they are interacting with others on a game (via web) they are communicating. I feel every study is aimed to make us parents feel like every little thing our children on the spectrum do might be “abnormal.” I gave up reading studies years ago.

  12. Kathy Kyger says:

    Jeepers, maybe it’s because during the ages 8-18 boys are more argumentative in general. My son is on his video games alone or with friends all the time. I find him better behaved and more compliant at 15 yo than he was at 13 yo. Our kids mature at different speeds just like the neuro-typical kids.

    It can also be a result of whether the boy is receiving appropriate supports and medications. Namenda worked wonders for our son, along with Lamectil for mood swings and Zoloft for depression.

    Lastly, yes, my son is loud and agitated when on line with his friends. But, he doesn’t carry that same behavior out of his room to me, his father, or school. Just like boys on sports teams.

    This guy seems to have an agenda. He is finding what he goes looking for.

  13. LAURENCE says:


    I found this article while researching why my ASD grandson is so obsessive about video games. He is in far too deep with this. We introduced game-playing as a reword for doing well in school and other behaviors where we wanted to see improvement. Notwithstanding the degree of success we’ve had in using Xbox as an incentive, it may have backfired on us. He does not want to do anything else. He equates video games with some of the most important aspects of living. For example, he is mad at God for not making him mature. Why is being mature so important to him? So he can play ‘M’ rated games. Luckily, my wife is a psychologist and we hope to reverse what is going on with him with these games. Video games will have their place, such as a form of interaction with other kids, but we must not allow video games to be used merely as an easy way to manage his behavior.

  14. PleasedToMeetYou says:

    Super high functioning autistic here.

    To the point where I had an active and fulfilling social life in college. No, that does not imply that I am neurotypical. I rarely say anything, listen to everything, and maybe every once in a while say something worth hearing. I can hold decent conversations one on one and have in the past couple years started to feel vibes and see patterns in people’s faces. I read everything.

    It is easy to think that correlation implies causation. The reality is that many of those with autism really just enjoy video games (or a variety of other things) A LOT. It is not the cause of their condition…but with that said, everything in moderation… and I can agree that parents should strongly encourage their children to spend their free time trying to make friends… stressing that when it comes to such things, its about the journey and not the destination. Those are terms they should probably understand.

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